By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Nov 25, 2016) US Soccer Players – It doesn’t always happen. Both of the MLS conference finals still have plenty to play for in the deciding game. There’s no lopsided first-leg result, no team obviously out of its depth. That’s exactly the kind of situation that often leads to dramatic finishes.
Each of the four teams left in the MLS Cup playoffs have their reasons for needing to lift the Philip F. Anschutz trophy. All go well beyond the simply desire to win. Validation is as much a theme of these playoffs as anything else.
Here’s is a look at what’s on the line for Colorado, Seattle, Montreal, and Toronto as their seasons come down to those 90 minutes at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and BMO Field, respectively.
Somehow, the highest seed remaining in the postseason is still the biggest underdog of the bunch. The Rapids rise to a championship contender caught everyone by surprise. The maturation of Pablo Mastroeni from neophyte coach to MLS adept has been nothing short of spectacular. Even if Colorado doesn’t manage to win the Western Conference title and bring an MLS Cup final to their home park, Mastroeni and his team deserve plenty of praise.
There are some doubts about the way the Rapids play and whether it’s good enough soccer to bring them a championship. Colorado has subsisted on good defending and just enough goals throughout the season, meaning their success has always seemed fragile.
There’s also the matter of the Rapids and their profile in Denver. Like a few other MLS teams, Colorado is relegated to afterthought status in their home market through a combination of soccer’s fit in the sporting landscape and their stadium location. The team won an MLS Cup in 2010 but has not been able to fill seats consistently. With Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard on board and the club showing ambition, perhaps a title in 2016 would provide the boost they need.
Since their introduction into MLS in 2009, the Sounders have been one of the league’s most ambitious teams. That has meant big interest in the team from year-to-year and a national profile built on their massive crowds and significant spending. It’ss also raised expectations for winning and brought more disappointed when the club has ultimately failed to secure a championship each and every year.
The Sounders want and need to add an Anschutz trophy to their collection. Supporters’ Shields (they have one) and US Open Cups (they have four) are fine achievements. They don’t measure up to the biggest achievement of them all. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that every trophy the Sounders add to their display case that isn’t an MLS Cup only heightens the anxiety over the absence of a league championship.
This year’s team is not only good enough to get the job done, but would complete a remarkable turnaround in the process should they go all the way. What that means is that not only would the Sounders end the struggle for a championship, they’d create a piece of MLS lore in the process.
If Seattle is the ambitious club that comes up a hurdle or two short every year despite their financial commitment and big crowds, Toronto FC is the ambitious club that never even gets on the track. Last year’s playoff experience lasted as long as it took for Montreal to knock them out.
That means 2016 is a chance for redemption for the Reds. The amount of money they spent on Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley alone sets them apart from the rest of the MLS pack. For a club that is only tasting the postseason for the second time since 2007, the next match is always a step forward. That doesn’t mean anyone will be satisfied if they don’t reach an MLS Cup final.
Then there’s the matter of Giovinco specifically and his title as the best player in Major League Soccer. Thanks largely to an injury that kept him out for the final six weeks of the regular season, the Italian forward wasn’t among the finalists for the MVP award he took him last year. Reports out of Toronto suggest Giovinco was more than a little annoyed not getting consideration. He’s now making the playoffs a personal mission to prove that the voters got it wrong.
Impact head coach Mauro Biello is not only proving himself worthy of a job that he was passed over for more than once, he’s sending a message to the rest of the league that he’s not afraid to make difficult decisions. How else can you describe his choice to put Designated Player Didier Drogba on the bench for the final stretch of the season?
After Frank Klopas’s dismissal as Impact boss in 2015, Drogba nearly single-handedly took Montreal to the playoffs with an incredible scoring run. Biello, as the interim manager at the time, directly benefited. One could even say that Biello has Drogba to thank for the chance to drop that interim title. Benching Drogba for Matteo Mancosu was no small thing.
The Impact can also make waves in Quebec should they beat their Canadian rivals TFC in the Eastern Conference final and perhaps bring home an MLS Cup trophy. The 60,000-plus fans who filled up Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night are an indicator of the interest in the team when they win. The fact that the Impact bumped the NHL’s Canadiens off the main sports channel in the region shows the potential for the club to become more than a curiosity in Francophone Canada.
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